OTTAWA — The federal government will show Canadians its plan to protect jobs during the clean energy transition no later than early spring, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Wednesday.
Legislation to guide how that plan is implemented, however, won't come for some time after that.
The Liberals have promised a "just transition act" since at least 2019, and Wilkinson has been saying it will finally happen this year.
That prospect prompted outcry in Alberta, where the energy transition will have the biggest impact and provincial politicians are headed for a tightly contested election this spring.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has asked for a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to help shape that legislation. Her chief opponent, NDP Leader Rachel Notley, asked the federal Liberals to delay the whole thing at least until after the election, which is scheduled for the end of May.
But Wilkinson said the bill, for which he didn't offer a timeline, will in some ways be secondary to the action plan listing what the government intends to do. He said that plan will hopefully be revealed by the end of March, though it may "slip into the next quarter."
"The legislation will guide future efforts and will create a governance structure, but it's the policy statement that I think is going to be the most impactful," he said. "And, as I say, we will be releasing that in the coming few months."
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He said the plan is based on lengthy consultations with provinces, labour organizations, business and Indigenous communities. Ultimately, he said, it will contain no surprises.
The concept of a "just transition" has existed for several decades, but it took on new meaning after the 2015 Paris climate agreement committed most of the world to transitioning to cleaner energy sources in a bid to slow climate change.
The idea is that any efforts to adjust reliance on fossil fuels must ensure that people who work in energy industries can move to new sectors and will not be left out in the cold.
The "just transition" debate exploded last month when Smith lambasted the federal government for a briefing document that listed the number of jobs that could be affected by the ongoing global transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy.
Smith misread the total number of jobs in the affected sectors to mean the number of jobs the federal government expected would be lost, and pledged to "fight this just transition idea" with everything she had.
A week later, the premier wrote to Trudeau warning him that the Ottawa-Alberta relationship was "at a crossroads," and demanding that Alberta be included in all discussions on a "just transition" going forward.
She also said the legislation shouldn't be labelled as a "just transition" bill, but one about "sustainable jobs."
That request hit the federal government with interest and even amusement, since several federal ministers had already signalled their intention to use the term.
"I think I've been pretty clear I don't like the term 'just transition,'" Wilkinson said Wednesday.
"I prefer 'sustainable jobs.' I think it speaks to a future where we're looking to build economic opportunity for all regions of this country, very much including Alberta and Saskatchewan."
Smith will be in Ottawa next week as part of a first ministers meeting on health care, but there is no sign she will get a one-on-one meeting with Trudeau on sustainable jobs.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2023.